How to cheat at making good decisions

Make a good decision: don't make lightning in the microwave

On the rare occasions when people ask me for it, I can give pretty darn good advice.

Don’t rob a bank if you like rooms with four real walls and a separate bathroom.

Don’t wear a short skirt without underwear when it’s windy.

Don’t reheat the garlic bread in the microwave when it’s still in its tin foil.

To be fair, I’ve only done one of these things myself, and only for a few seconds. (Have you seen blue lightning in the microwave? For a moment I thought I’d caught a dragon.)

It’s easy to say these sensible things when you’re not personally involved. You’re not going to end the day with a bag full of shiny $20 notes and equally you’re not going to end it sleeping in a bed beside your toilet (if the TV shows are to be believed).

It’s harder to see what the right thing is when you’re the person who has to be constricted by underwear or take the garlic bread out of its wrapping before reheating it.

When a friend messages me to say, “I met a guy but I don’t know if he likes me or not,” it’s easy to say, “Ask him out. The worst he can do is say no.”

Would I take that advice myself?

Of course not–I’m married. But before I was married when I liked a guy I asked him out.

Which means that’s not a very good example.

Hmm, a better example…

A friend says, “I want to make more friends, but I never leave the house.”

I say, “You need a hobby that involves interacting with 3D people. Go out and try something new. Start by talking to the other people who do it and see if you like them.”

Then I jump back on my laptop.

To be fair, I don’t want to meet more people.

Then it’s my turn.

Me: Dear Great Cat, I like aspects of my job, but I’m always stressed out of my mind and it’s making me miserable. What should I do, Your Wondrousness?

Great Cat: Open a tin of tuna

Me: Will that help?

Great Cat: I want tuna.

I know, it’s not the Great Cat’s job to solve all the problems of the world.

If a friend came to me with this problem I might have sensible advice: Figure out what tasks you don’t really need to do. Explain to whomever’s giving you the work that you don’t have time to do it all. Learn to say no. If you can’t do what you need to do in this job, think about getting a different one.

But when it’s me it’s not that easy. I already say no to things. I need to do all these tasks.

I need to eat more raw fish.

The Great Cat eats fish.
My fish.

Okay, maybe not that one.

When it’s me with the problem, when I hear possible solutions all I can think of is the reasons why they won’t work.

I tried that. I can’t do that. I have to do that.

Stop. Deep breath. I might have responses to these protests if I could shut up long enough to hear them.

So I have a new process for when faced with a tricky problem.

I imagine it’s a friend asking me what to do in that situation and tell myself what I’d tell her.

Then I let myself protest.

Then I respond to the protests.

Then I let myself protest again.

Then I ask if the objections are genuine or if what I’m really saying is, “I don’t want to do that because it’s hard and scary.” It’s easier to see this clearly when you’re pretending it’s not you with the problem.

Hard and scary are insidious, but the first step to defeating them is acknowledging they’re the issue.

Would I hold my friend’s hand and encourage her to take the step despite it being hard and scary?

If I would, I should do the same for myself.**

** Note I’m not saying I actually do this. It’s hard and scary–what do you think I am? But I acknowledge it’s a good idea.

Do you have any great (or not so great) ideas on how to convince yourself to do something hard and scary? Do you think it would help if you were to pretend you were someone else and it was their life you were potentially screwing up? No? Well, it was worth asking.

Get more of my ramblings right in your inbox. Some are more coherent than others.

It was this scary.

Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

15 thoughts on “How to cheat at making good decisions”

  1. I do things that are hard and scary by thinking about them for a really long time. I’m not sure exactly what it is I’m thinking about during this process, but eventually I start to research and build messy lists of pros and cons. Generally when I understand the new thing that I think is going to be hard and scary well enough, I’m able to jump in. It’s a really lengthy process, and I don’t recommend it for anyone trying to get anything done in a hurry.

    Generally though, I think humans tend to resist change. When a situation gets so bad we can’t stand it any more, that’s when we take action, and at that point hard and scary don’t matter so much. I’m not recommending staying at your job until you’re about to blow, it’s just a general observation.

    I like your approach, and I think I’ll try it.

    1. You’re right, change is a risk and most people try to avoid risk until things get so bad they can’t any more. That’s probably me. I should take more risks… but I feel like have enough on my plate right now. I think I’ll have another coffee instead.

  2. Thank you for reminding me of this handy technique, which I have stumbled upon in my own experience, and then forgotten about, several times. That’s how challenging it is for my brain to remember to talk to itself nicely. But your timing is superb as I am even now trying to nerve myself up to take on a daunting writing challenge. Cheers!

  3. So true – it’s an awful lot easier to give others advice and encouragement. I like your technique, and I’ll give it a go, although I can see myself having long arguments and ending up not talking to me…

    Hope the saying no at work is getting easier!

    1. That is a risk, I admit. 🙂

      I had a chat with the boss, and he said how about I don’t say yes to anything before running it by him. Now whenever I get a request I go to him and say, “Do I have to do this?” and he’s like, “Nope.” I’m liking the system.

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